Out of the Mouths

When kids learn a new word or phrase, they try it on. They wait for the right moment, or what they think is the right moment, and then with all the conviction they can muster, they try to make something they don’t yet understand sound like something they figured out years ago. “You can’t read my mind, Rose!” Sky screamed one day after his sister accused him of hurting her intentionally. “You don’t even know how to read yet!”

In a weird way, the same is true of race. You can’t possibly ask a kid who doesn’t understand that reading doesn’t always mean reading to understand that brown-skinned people are actually called blacks (except when they’re Latino) and pink-skinned people are actually called whites (except when they happen to be your extremely light-skinned younger sister). Watching Sky struggle with this, I’m aware that part of me wishes he would never figure it out. That there was nothing to figure out in the first place.

Not too long ago, looking at a black and white photo of Coretta Scott King, Sky tried on race like this.

“Mom, guess what? You and Daddy are just like Martin Luther King and Coretta!”

“We are?”

“Yea. Martin Luther King is dark just like you, and Coretta is light just like Daddy. Look! See?”

Look. See. And he means that, literally.

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One Comment

  1. MsShona
    Posted – Dec 26 at   | Permalink | Reply

    This is really fascinating. When I was younger, I also struggled with identifying races…and perhaps as a 30-something year old woman, I still do! My Grandmother was East Indian, but since she was brown, and my Jamaican Grandfather was brown, we were still “Black people”. Yesterday my White BF met my aunt (my father’s sister) for the first time. He remarked to me after that she looks “very Indian”. At argued right away, “No she doesn’t…she just looks like a light-skinned Black person…but still Black”. He then countered with, “No, her skin coloring is Asian-ish; her hair texture isn’t Black; and did you see her eyes?” I then rolled my eyes and said that I’ve known this woman my entire life…there is no need to describe her to me! Yet maybe there is. He’s seeing her as a stranger practically. While I see her as just another member of my “Black” family.

    It’s enough to make your head spin; which is kind of why I would rather not try to think about it!

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